Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 18, 2017

© Shannon J. Ross

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The new garden

Easy vegetable patches take root with no-dig containers and raised bed

Home veggie gardens are sprouting up faster than dandelions these days. “Growing your own vegetables is the number one gardening trend right now,” says Canadian gardening expert Frank Ferragine (aka Frankie Flowers) and author of Get Growing: An Everyday Guide to High-impact, Low-fuss Gardens.

The veggie garden revival took root about three years ago, and stems from many factors including the local food movement and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver who showcase garden-to-table meals on their cooking shows. “More people simply want to control where their food comes from,” explains Ferragine, who appears on Toronto’s CityTV as a gardening expert, and writes columns for Canadian Living and Canadian Gardening.

“With economists predicting a spike in Canadian food prices due to soaring fuel costs and bad crops around the world, more people have taken up the hobby to save on groceries,” says the Canadian green thumb, who offers gardening advice on frankieflowers.com. And let’s face it, freshly picked produce is delicious.

Thinking of getting started? Well, here’s the good news. You don’t need a huge backyard, a property with great soil or even experience to give it a try. No-dig options like containers and raised beds have made home veggie gardening more accessible and easier than ever.

Container gardening takes root

“One of the best ways to get your feet wet is by growing vegetables in containers,” says Ferragine. “That way you can see if you really enjoy it before you spend all that time and money building a vegetable bed.” They're also great for people with smaller properties or who live in a condo.

What can you use for a container? Anything from a ceramic pot to a bathtub, as long as it’s big enough and has drainage. Keep in mind though, larger containers are easier to maintain because they hold more soil, and thus retain more moisture. “Remember you are eating the food grown in it, so look for safe options. For example, if you’re building your own boxes, use natural cedar rather than chemically treated lumber,” advises Ferragine.

While herbs and cherry tomatoes are great for starters, you can grow most vegetables in containers. “I’ve even experimented with growing potatoes in recycling bins and they’ve worked out great,” says the gardening expert. “The size of your containers really dictate what you can grow.” Some of Ferragine’s other favourite container veggies are peppers, leaf lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, pole beans and green onions.

Catering to this burgeoning niche, new varieties of vegetables have been bred to grow in containers. They are generally referred to as "dwarf" varieties, and include fingerling eggplants and space-saver cucumbers.

Garden centre plans

Veggie gardening mania has prompted garden centres to make edible gardening easy for beginners and pros alike. Cut and Dried Flower Farm (cutdriedflowerfarm.com) in Glencairn, Ontario offers a "plant it here" station with containers, soil and free planting advice.

“People can either bring in their own containers or buy them from us, and plant their vegetables before they leave,” explains owner Katie Dawson. “In the last three years, our veggie plants sales have increased dramatically. In 2010, I saw my potted vegetable sales double.”

Any planting advice? “I would encourage gardeners to mix their veggies up with their flowers, both in containers and in the ground. No need to have a special area just for veggies. I have grown containers of Swiss chard mixed with ornamental grasses and they look stunning,” advises Dawson.

Raised beds get a lift

Raised beds are another option for budding green thumbs, especially those with poor soil. A raised bed is a garden built on top of your native soil in an open-bottom box. Designs can be elaborate or simple, and as high off the ground as you like. (Elevated beds make veggie gardening accessible for arthritis sufferers or wheelchair gardeners).

“Raised beds (like containers) are great because you don’t have to battle against poor soil,” explains Roger Leroux of Green Gourmet Gardens (greengourmetgardens.com) a New Lowell, Ontario-based company that specializes in building space-saving container gardens and raised beds. “When you build above the ground, you have complete control over the soil texture and ingredients.”

The company’s custom-built wooden containers are made from chemical-free cedar. “Our best seller is the 4-foot by 4-foot by 11-inch (1.2-metre by 1.2-metre by 28-centimetre) high garden (with windbreaks), but we can build to accommodate any space,” he explains. Such a unit runs $146. A basic 4-foot by 4- foot by 7-inch high unit without windbreak is $77. Assembly, taxes and delivery charges are extra. The company ships build-it-yourself kits across Canada.

Compared to traditional veggie gardening the benefits of raised beds are plentiful. Along with a great soil mix you have longer growing seasons; less weeds; better pest control; more plants per square foot and portability, according to Leroux.

No digging, no weeding

Avid vegetable gardener Monika Carless also sings the praises of raised beds. “I would never go back to rowed vegetable gardens,” says Carless, a nutritionist and freelance writer who specializes in sustainable living practices. “Raised beds are just so much easier.”

About five years ago, the Wyebridge, Ontario resident converted her 60 by 50-foot (18 by 15-metre) veggie and flower patch to raised beds. She wanted to plant herbs closer to the kitchen door, but couldn’t dig in the area because of the septic bed. Raised beds were the only option, and they worked out beautifully. Shortly after, the gardener and her husband Steve, decided to convert the entire garden.

“In my rowed gardens, I would spend every spare hour weeding,” offers Carless, who specializes in organic gardening. “but that’s not the case with raised beds.” Raised beds require less weeding because you aren’t digging, which can exacerbate any weed problem, denser plantings help reduce weed infestations; and you have control over the contents of the soil.

“Adding mulch also helps to keep the weeds down,” she explains. An ornamental flower bed helps to bring in the pollinators and birds (to keep pests down). Raised beds (like containers) are also less work because less digging is involved. “You don’t need to turn the soil,” says Carless.

For folks interested in created raised beds, Carless advises to start small, and only plant what you’ll eat. “I would also avoid planting corn, unless you want to attract the raccoons,” she says with a smile.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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